To the best of my knowledge, I have never met reporter Bill Peterson of The Post ("The Senate's Thunder on the Right Has a Contralto Overture," A2, Jan. 17). I have never conducted an interview with him or been asked a question by him. Nonetheless, he apparently feels qualified to label me as a "New Right" senator, criticize my effectiveness in the Senate and insinuate that I condoned a less-than-honorable campaign against my 1980 opponent, George McGovern.

If The Post had contacted me, I would have told its reporter how, when I announced for the Senate, I said I was running because McGovern and myself represented two widely different philosophies. I promised to run a totally positive campaign based on the differences between my conservatism and his liberal beliefs. Despite the personal attacks I was forced to undergo throughout the entire campaign by the trailing McGovern forces, I kept my promise and ran a dignified race. Emotional issues like abortion had no part in my campaign.

I am not ashamed to be labeled a conservative. During six terms in the South Dakota state legislature, one term as the state's lieutenant governor and four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, I had a consistently conservative record on basic issues. It was not until I was elected to the Senate, though, that the media labeled me a member of the so-called "New Right." I unequivocally deny that label and resent my inclusion in that group.

I wanted the 1980 election to be a true test of who really represented South Dakota, myself or McGovern. I did not want interference from any outside extremist groups, and only one entered (for a very brief period of time)--the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC). I publicly asked McGovern to join me in filing a complaint against NCPAC, but he refused. Therefore, I had to act alone in opposing NCPAC, and I filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against the organization. It is still pending.

I will state, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no outside political or religious extremist group benefited my election to the U.S. Senate.

As for Peterson's claim that I am seldom heard from except on issues of interest to South Dakota, I would reply that he should take a closer look at my first- year Senate record. To cite just a few examples, I prevented the Treasury Department from abolishing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms until a thorough investigation could be conducted and hearings held to determine how the move would affect our nation's law enforcement efforts. I have had four bills dealing with national water policy and resources passed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Two bills, dealing with project deauthorizations, have become law. The other two-- the National Water Resources Research and Planning Act and the National Harbors Improvement and Maintenance Act --deal with controversial new concepts, and floor action is pending. South Dakota, by the way, has no harbors.

As well, I have used my chairmanship of the Joint Economic Committee subcommittee on agriculture and transportation to call in witnesses like Murray Weidenbaum and John Block to discuss economic problems in agriculture.

I am not ashamed to say that I devote substantial time, in addition to my other Senate duties, to watching out for South Dakota's interests. When I have only three colleagues in my state's congressional delegation as opposed to, say, New York's 41, it is imperative that I look out for the needs of my rural constituency.